Ok first up, what the hell are these words?
Heteronormativity – The assumption that everyone we meet is heterosexual (straight). This can be done consciously or subconsciously. If you’re a straight female and the first thing you think when you see a handsome man is ‘I wonder if he has a girlfriend’, then you’re thinking in a heteronormative way – you think he is straight. This can be subconscious, cause let’s face it, you kinda are hope he’s striaght.
Cisnormativity – the assumption that everyone you meet is cisgender. This means that those people’s sex and gender match. Ie. Born biologically male and identifies as male as well. If you see a guy in trousers and automatically assume he’s cisgender then you cisnormative.
Ok, now I’m not saying that every time you meet someone new you have to analyse them. No way. But generally that’s what we do, we analyse people: good dressers, clean hair, neat, fashionable, voice intonation – we judge the person based on everything we can see and hear.
What we rarely seem to think is : I wonder if they identify as queer. Usually what happens is: they look like a girl, so girl; they look like a boy, so boy. When really this is all bogus. Yes, everyone would like to assume that people who are not cisgender would look it. We focus on how well they can ‘pass’ or be ‘read’. But what about people who are non-binary? therefore don’t identify as male or female? Maybe they are somewhere in the middle, or completely off the spectrum? The person may look feminine, may wear skirts, but that person is not necessarily cisgender.
So lesson 1: don’t assume people are straight or cisgender – your best friend could be homosexual or trans/queer, so can your teacher, or the person you sat next to on the bus.
Now, why is it a problem if people are heteronormative or cisnormative?
Well, a variety of reasons.
1. Don’t make coming out harder than it already is. By being assumed to be one way, people find it even harder to reveal their true selves because they feel that they are not matching the expectations of the people around them. So make it easier for the people you care about who may be desperately trying to come out to you: don’t assume.
2. It friggen hurts. As someone who isn’t ‘out’ as non-binary, it’s annoying/hurtful for me to be referred to as a female (born biologically female). Even though I dress quite androgynously, no one ever thinks that I could be queer. Instead, they automatically assume I am lesbian.. which I’m not. I’m pansexual.
3. The assumption game is always wrong. Assuming is one of the worst things we can do as people. Othello assumed he could trust Iago, he assumed his wife was cheating on him…well that didn’t end well. Romeo assumed that Juliet was dead when in reality she was passed out from that drug she took. You assumed your friend or partner meant one thing when they really said something else, and a fight ensued.
Assuming is never helpful, to anyone. If in doubt, ask. I’d rather have people ask me what I identify as, rather than take being a girl as a given.
This is the same for intersex people. Intersex means having genitals which are “intermediate between male and female”. What happens is when the baby is born, a gender is chosen for them, to quote Masters of Sex “A hole is easier than a pole”. So these children would grow up to be perceived/assumed as a particular gender, when in reality they would not identify that way. By assuming they are a particular gender you are cancelling out a part of their existence.
Lesson 2: Don’t assume – yes I know this is same as lesson 1, but seriously can’t stress it enough.